There are new faces of poverty in Southern Ohio

Jean Schmidt
By Jean Schmidt

I was among about 300 people who volunteered Wednesday to pack food for the needy and help them carry it out of the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

Among the folks I assisted were several grandmothers, who smiled as they spoke of how busy they’ll be cooking Thanksgiving meals for the adorable children who bless their lives. I’m a grandma, too, and my heart goes out to such impoverished families.

I also helped a disabled mom from the West Side, who said she lost her job last year and hasn’t been able to find a new one. It was the first time she had stood in line at the Freestore Foodbank for the annual Thanksgiving food distribution, which she learned about through a TV news report. She found that she qualified to receive food, and she told me how grateful she was.

She had come downtown with a neighbor, a 25-year-old Marine Corps veteran who served overseas but hasn’t been able to find a job since returning to the States. It was also the first time he had visited the Freestore Foodbank.

These are among the new faces of poverty in Southern Ohio. They are normal people who have fallen on hard times. This is a profound statement about what is going on in our country.

I’ve been involved with volunteer efforts to help feed those less fortunate for about 20 years. Never before have I witnessed such great need. Unless our economy turns around, the number of such people will continue to grow – through no fault of their own.

As a member of Congress, I recognize the need to get our federal budget under control. As government resources decline, the need for volunteers will increase.

If not for about 900 volunteers who helped out at the Freestore Foodbank over the three days before Thanksgiving, this food distribution wouldn’t have been possible. Among them were young men in St. Xavier High School shirts, a business executive who toted heavy bags despite her high heels, and retired men and women.

About 10,000 local families benefited. Each got a turkey or chicken, rice or stuffing, canned vegetables, fresh potatoes, Ohio apples, and some type of dessert.

Most of the needy who lined up in the cold before the doors opened live in Hamilton County or Northern Kentucky, I was told. But the impact of this annual effort reaches much of Southern Ohio.

While based in Hamilton County, the Freestore Foodbank helps people in 20 counties through food pantries, including residents of Clermont County, Brown County, Adams County, Scioto County, and Pike County.

Last year, the Freestore Foodbank gave away about 20 million pounds of food, said Kurt L. Reiber, president and chief executive officer. About 5 million pounds of that food came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About 3 million more pounds of food came from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Much of the rest was purchased by the Freestore Foodbank with donations from caring people – including those who work at local businesses.

The food that comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is bought from American farmers.

This is done largely to maintain stability in the prices of crops and livestock, but it also obviously benefits needy people.

Agriculture is the number one industry in Ohio. Unfortunately, farmers throughout America are still waiting on Congress to reach a consensus on a new five-year Farm Bill.

Farming is a unique business because of the unpredictability of weather. The Farm Bill ensures we manage the risk for farmers so we don’t lose our food supply.

I’m a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and I believe we have a responsibility to ensure that America has the safest and most stable food supply in the world.

I hope the need is obvious to everyone.

Jean Schmidt is the U.S. Congresswoman serving Ohio’s Second District.